How to Scrounge Around for Free Food at Work

I’ve been thinking about writing a little bit about my personal finance goals and how I’m getting there. But maybe writing about how I’m scrounging around for food at work wasn’t the first thing I wanted to write about. Nevertheless, let’s get into this.

Now maybe a question that comes up is “what are you talking about ‘scrounging‘?” Well, what I mean is just getting free food at work. “Oh okay, that’s easy enough to understand.” But no, I mean being intent about finding free food at work.

First, the facts.

  • Food is expensive. A 2012 Gallup article states that Americans, on average, spend $151 on food a week. Extrapolate that out to a month, that’s over $600 a month and over $7,200 a year spent on food. Not just that, young adults spends even more than that according to the poll. And those numbers are from over seven years ago. This more recent 2017 Bureau of Labor Statistics survey found that Americans spend $7,729 a year on average on food. So I think it’s fair to say that Americans spend a lot on food. Imagine what you could do with half of that in your pocket.
Trend: On the average, about how much does your family spend on food each week?
A line graph of the mean weekly spend on food adjusted to 2012 dollars
Charts showing how much money is wasted on food being thrown out

Those were a lot of random numbers. Let’s just say this: food is expensive and it gets thrown away.

I’ve already mentioned that me being a food bandit is kind of money-driven. It’s free and right there! But on top of that, I don’t have to spend time going to the grocery store, prepping veggies, cooking, cleaning, and everything else. I’m saving time there too.

Now what you really came here for

Alright, so here are the meat and potatoes of how I’m finding food. Well maybe the chicken and rice–we had Mediterranean food catered this week. I’ve got a few tricks that have been helping me out so far and maybe this will give some insight on why this hasn’t been too hard to do.

How to find free food

Skip breakfast. Or at least wait a while before eating it.

My coworkers love to bring in baked goods: cookies, brownies, muffins, bagels, donuts, pretty much any kind of carb. I’ve found that I can usually come in and drink some coffee to suppress my appetite. Usually within 30 minutes of that, someone has brought something in and I’ve got my first meal of the day.

Of course, there have to be back-up plans. It would make sense to keep some kind of non-perishable food nearby just in case. I’ve got some yogurt that doesn’t expire till next month and granola to pair with that at my desk. Oatmeal would probably be a good choice.

Lastly, it’s always possible to just skip breakfast. The intermittent fasting diet trend is practically based on cutting out breakfast. Some people even say breakfast isn’t the most important meal of the day. Do this as a last resort in case you couldn’t find any carbs.

Work through lunch in the cafeteria area.

Most people go out to lunch around noon but not you. If you followed my instructions on breakfast, it means you probably had a late breakfast while waiting for someone to bring in last night’s cookies. Then good, you’re not hungry yet.

Position yourself in the dining area slightly before people start coming back from lunch–let’s say 12:45pm.

A note on positioning: be within line of sight of the communal food area! I almost missed a sailor sandwich because my back was facing the food and there was a column between us.

1:00pm to 2:00pm is prime hunting season. It’s when catered meetings finish their lunches and they get back to doing work. This is your time to strike. Like a crocodile waits motionlessly before striking and barrel rolling their prey apart, you will sit at the watering hole and keep one eye out for any Jimmy Johns, Panera, Papa John’s, or chickens who’ve recently fiesta’d to arrive. One day, I even ended up getting two lunches because of this.

Of course there have to be back-up plans here too. Personally I can’t skip both breakfast and lunch. My two options in this case would be to either bring a lunch just in case you don’t find anything or to go out and get food. Plus, you’ve already missed the big lunch rush by this time of day.

Dinner is a little bit harder to do

As for dinner, I don’t have much to contribute. I’ve been going over to my girlfriend’s at night and I’ve been eating dinner with her and her family. Not as exciting but I’ve gotten you this far, so I can’t just leave you hanging. It is possible that there could be leftovers from an over-catered event and that could be a good dinner. Most of the time though, this isn’t the case. Those kind of events are only once or twice a month. Alternatively, I’m part of some groups that do monthly meetups during the evening and there is usually some catering there.

So those are my tips and I hope they work out for you. I definitely tried to spill all the beans! Wait no, those beans are from Chicken Fiesta and I’m eating those later.

And now the results.

Free food I've gotten
Free food I’ve gotten in the first 10 days of March

It’s honestly too early to tell where this is going to lead me but I’ll make a follow up post next month. I’ll go over how much I actually saved on food (and maybe even gas) by comparing it to February’s food spending.

So far this month, I’ve only gone to the grocery store once. I went to Costco on Monday night to get a rotisserie chicken and some quinoa salad. Surprisingly though, I only had it for one meal because I ended up using the tricks I stated earlier and had pretty much every meal taken care of.

Other than that trip to Costco, I did buy Chipotle earlier that day after getting my haircut. I was moving over the weekend and instead of cooking food for myself, I ended up getting Chipotle every day. I also got dinner at a new restaurant in town (Hot Chick RVA) with friends. I paid for both my girlfriend and I as well as drinks at a bar across the street (Havana ’59). We’ll see all that and more in my post next month!

I will say one thing though, this is definitely not the healthiest thing in the world. When you can’t pick and choose the food you’re going to eat, you end up eating the crowd pleasers of catering (pizza, sandwiches, taco platters, etc). This is usually high in carbs and fat and very low in vegetables. I mean, you’re literally eating leftovers. Maybe this isn’t sustainable. Maybe this is just something I do for this month as a challenge. Will I start gaining weight from all the unhealthy food? Will I lose weight from never being able to find anything? Will I become a horrible person that is only looking out for his next meal? Who knows. For sure stay tuned for next month’s post.

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